In the days after Hurricane Harvey, the Federal Aviation Administration issued 137 airspace authorizations for drone-related recover efforts in the Houston area. Not long after, the FAA issued 132 airspace authorizations in the Florida area shortly after Hurricane Irma, the FAA announced this week.
Approvals were needed to fly drones during the hurricane because the area was otherwise covered by a Temporary Flight Restriction.
And many of those approvals were processed within hours, according to The Wall Street Journal, an exceptionally fast turnaround for the industry, which is accustomed to waiting weeks or even months to get drone flights approved.
Hundreds of drones are being used for hurricane recovery efforts, whether for surveys, helping with insurance claims, restoring power and more.
“Essentially, every drone that flew meant that a traditional aircraft was not putting an additional strain on an already fragile system,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said during a speech at Interdrone. “I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the hurricane response will be looked back upon as a landmark in the evolution of drone usage in this country.”
Here were some of the ways drones were used in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma:
Search and rescue: In Houston, the team from Texas A&M University’s Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue flew 119 drone flights in eight days between Aug. 25 and Sept. 4. The team used drones ranging from DJI Phantom 3 drones and the Parrot Disco to high-end inspection drones such as those by PrecisionHawk. Not only did the team spot people in need, they also monitored levees and measured damage.
Media coverage: Media outlets such as ABC and CNN aired drone footage to show viewers what the affected areas looked like before and after the storm.
Surveying: The National Guard used drones to perform aerial surveys, allowing them to get an aerial view of the disaster and determine which areas to prioritize for assistance.
Railroads: Eight of the approvals related to Harvey were to a Texas railroad company, which used drones to survey damage along a major rail line.
Mapping: The U.S. Customs and Border Protection used drones to map areas in Key West, Miami and Jacksonville, allowing them to inspect infrastructure such as power plants for The Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Insurance: Airbus Aerial is using drones to help insurance companies handle insurance claims. Airbus Aerial technology allows insurers access to its archives of data to see what a given area looked like before a storm, then task high resolution satellites in the areas of most importance to them. The drones are able to gather data, and paired with manned aircraft and satellite data can give an image of sites before and after the hurricane. According to a statement released by Airbus Aerial, “this helps insurance companies to prioritize the hardest hit areas and efficiently deploy their on-site adjusters to the places they are needed most. ”
Power restoration: The Jacksonville Electric Authority in Florida used drones in its work to restore power after severe outages that affected 6 million residents. Drones were able to do damage assessments within 24 hours of the storm.
Florida Power and Light, which serves 4.4 million customers, also used drones to survey the area, helping them restore electricity. The company has 49 drone teams, and many were operating within an hour of the storm subsididing.